Kristen Waddell

Kristen Waddell

I have not had too many typical days during the past six months. I’ve worked in libraries for over ten years and I’ve accomplished professionally has been important and fulfilling. However, powering through college and jumping into a career didn’t give me a chance to stop and take a breath. When I did stop to take a breath it was when I stepped outside. It was when I took a drive out of the city and stayed in a tent for the first time. It was when I woke up in Yosemite National Park to the sound of ravens and the site of the early morning sun reflecting off of the granite cliffs. Over the past few years every chance I got I was outside, camping in the Great Smokey Mountains, the Everglades, and many other national and state parks. I worked my 9-5, but on Saturdays I volunteered at a wildlife reserve, jumping over the boardwalk rails to look for frogs in the swamp. I started collecting national park stamps and the knowledge to identify birds. Finally I decided to take a delayed gap year. I saved enough money to quit my job last and drove across the country, camping along the way. Since then I’ve volunteered with a local conservation organization, removing invasive plans and planting native species. In February and March of this year I will be taking my passion and commitment for conservation and wildlife protection abroad, spending six weeks volunteering with the Wildlife Friends of Thailand, taking care of elephants. I'm not sure what will happen after that, but I know that I want to use my time on this planet productively, always striving to live in harmony with and show respect for the environment and all people who live here. I want to learn something every day, teach something whenever I can, and give more than I take.


 Posted by Kristen Waddell at 11:17 pm  Thailand  Comments Off on Harvest!
Mar 072013

About every other day we go to harvest. The elephants eat banana trees and the top of pineapples in addition to fruit, grass, and some supplements if they need to bulk up. The Thai staff chop down the banana trees with machetes and we carry them to the trucks. Each day we chop them up to give to the elephants. I love seeing the elephants simply step on the thick terrestrial to break them open and eat the core, taking incredible strength! Pineapple tops aren’t as heavy, but the spines will get you

Harvest is hard work but makes the day go by fast.

Hard Work!

 Posted by Kristen Waddell at 2:15 am  Thailand  Comments Off on Hard Work!
Feb 232013

It has been one week working and I mean working! Though I have quickly learned that there are no typical days, here is a basic run-down:

6:30am: First feeding and cleaning – The elephants get  banana trees that we cut up with machetes, the leaves of the banana trees, pineapple tops, fruit, and some special things depending on their individual diets. We rake up leftover food for compost and wheel large amounts of poop away.

8:00-9:00: Breakfast

9:30: Second feeding and cleaning

11:00: Bath time! A few of the elephants have ‘lakes’ in their enclosures and can go in there to clean off and cool off. Otherwise we lure them with fruit, spray them down with a hose, and scrub them clean. They immediately throw dirt on themselves afterwards, but that’s just sunscreen and bug repellant.

12:00: Lunch!

1:00: Walk an elephant! Boon Mee will only follow if you have a handful of bananas, but Num Chok will follow vocal commands (something she learned working at an elephant camp most of her life).

2:00: Another shower and feeding and vet treatments if necessary.

4-5: Last cleaning and feeding

6:00: Dinner!

The volunteers also rotate house duty and doggy duty which entails clean up and care for the pet dogs.  All in all, I am usually exhausted by the end of the day, but in a good way that means I’m getting great sleep! The hard work keeps the days going quickly and really gives me a sense of purpose and confidence!


Arrival & Elephants!

 Posted by Kristen Waddell at 1:03 am  Thailand  Comments Off on Arrival & Elephants!
Feb 182013


After flying 18 hrs, passing through a few days, I’m here at the Wildlife Centre!

My driver was waiting right where planned and on the 2 1/2 hr drive we chatted about English accents, Harley Davidson, and the fact that he started out being an electrician (an occupation he loved) but being a driver was more profitable. Then he asked if I liked Bon Jovi and put on an entire concert on the DVD player that came out of the dash.

I went through the tour (led by Ana who is on her second stay and here indefinitely-so brave!), met the 20 or so other volunteers, had a delicious dinner, and managed to shower, figure out the toilet, unpack, and set up my mosquito netting before collapsing into an exhausted sleep from 8pm-5am.  I think I’ve reset my internal clock and am ready to work! It is hot, but beautiful and I love hearing the gibbons and other wildlife throughout the day and night.


I walked an elephant today (See Puak). Even though they have fairly large enclosures, elephants are used to treking pretty long distances through the forest. She was somewhat reluctant to go, but on the way back we had to run to keep up with her! We feed them three times a day along with picking up their poop (yes, a wheelbarrow is necessary as you might imagine).  Every other day we either compost waste or harvest banana stalks and leaves which are their primary foods.

There are currently 8 elephants and… exciting news… a baby elephant might be rescued and brought to the center tomorrow!


Preparing for my GVN experience!

 Posted by Kristen Waddell at 4:34 am  Thailand  Comments Off on Preparing for my GVN experience!
Feb 012013

Two weeks to go and I’m preparing for my 6 week stint at the Elephant Refuge and Education Center (upps! centre, I mean. I have to get used to spelling it that way). I am very thankful to Global Volunteer Network (GVN) for facilitating this experience for me!

Here’s what I’ve been doing so far to get ready:

  • Plane tickets: I’ll be flying into Bangkok from Los Angeles with a layover in Hong Kong.  There will be a driver to meet me to drive me to the Refuge. This is great because I am a novice international traveler and don’t want Bangkok to take me!
  • Immunizations: They aren’t required to be in Thailand unless you are traveling through an area with Yellow Fever. I went ahead with the recommended Diphteria/Tetanus and Hepatitis A. I’ve already had Polio and Hepatitis B vaccines as a child.
  • Visa: Since I’m going to be in Thailand for over 30 days, a tourist visa is required. I went to the Royal Thai Consulate in Los Angeles. All the information of what I needed was on their website ( and it was very quick and easy to get!
  • Supplies: GVN provided me with a checklist of what to take, which was extremely helpful. I love that my iPhone will cover multiple things on the list (hmm…now I better make sure it will work over there and that I can plug it in).
  • Clothing: I’m heading to Goodwill to pick up some appropriate clothing. I’ll be looking for board shorts (the shorts I own are much too short for the work and culture), long sleeved tees to prevent mosquito bites, and possibly a pair of adventure pants.
  • Packing: I’m hoping to fit everything in a 70L travel pack. I’d rather not check any luggage, so we’ll see how stuffed I can get this and still fit it in the overhead!
  • Money: 1.00 USD = 29.96 THB (Thai Baht) This is not the rate I will get as a tourist however. Now I need to figure out how many Bahts I need while in Thailand. I’ll be using Travelex for the exchange.

Mental state: Excited! Slightly nervous. Keeping busy with the preparations and learning Thai phrases. Cannot wait to meet the elephants!

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